Resilient Leaders Needed for Demanding Times
“Moses doesn’t always succeed as a leader, but
he’s a great model because he tries different things…,” said Rabbi
Elliot Schoenberg during the closing session of a recent two-day
continuing education event titled “Resilient Leadership: What Clergy
Need to Know to Lead Today.” The seminar was cosponsored by The
Rabbinical Assembly and held on the Seminary campus at the Center of
The leadership of Moses was one aspect of what 19 rabbis
and Protestant clergy looked at as they considered how to navigate the
rough waters of change that affect so many congregations. According to a
2001 study, between 49 and 70 percent of congregations of all sizes made a
major change in worship in the last five years, and 59 percent of those
that changed reported that with the major change came major conflict—so
managing change is certainly a need.
In addition to the example of Moses’ life, Schoenberg
and his coleader, Nancy Foltz, provided many other tools—ranging from a
useful understanding of chaos theory to several models of leadership to
the exposition of Scripture—for leaders to use in varying situations.
Schoenberg is associate executive director of The Rabbinical Assembly, the
international professional association of Conservative rabbis. Foltz is
adjunct professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a management
consultant to religious organizations and large corporations. Foltz
compared the leadership needs of congregations to those of a jazz group,
in which improvisation works toward a shared value: making great music.
Elizabeth Brishcar, PTS Class of 1999, came from West Virginia for the
seminar—where she is the first woman and first Yankee pastor at Falling
Waters Presbyterian Church in Hedgesville. Besides encountering the
differences she brings as a pastor who is both a woman and a northerner,
her congregation is feeling the tension of changing times. “How do we
lead in the Presbyterian Church?” she asks. “The church is facing
schism [over the homosexuality issue]. My congregation doesn’t know
whether the Presbyterian Church as they know it will exist in six months.
Nor do they know which side they’ll choose to be on.”
In addition to the theoretical and practical knowledge they’d been
provided, participants were thankful for the fellowship. “It’s nice to
know you’re not alone,” said David Cantor, rabbi of Congregation Beth
Israel in Bangor, Maine. “There are certain problems and situations
common to different congregations.” And, it seems, to different faiths.